Pride Month 2021 kicked off virtually with the 2nd Annual Tim Larrabee Memorial Lecture featuring drag queens Peppermint and Sasha Velour. Touching on themes of activism, queer history, community and more, the Zoom lecture facilitated by the Gender and Sexuality Center garnered close to 100 viewers on Tuesday, March 9.
Pride Month, traditionally in June in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, has been officially celebrated at Oakland University for the past four years. The opening ceremony was held in memoriam of late Tim Larrabee, who was an associate professor of education and teacher development and LGBTQIA+ advocate.
“Dr. Larrabee founded the SOGI initiative on campus, which was aimed to create a safe, welcoming, supportive and inclusive campus climate for all … Tim was instrumental in advocating for many of the changes on campus that have allowed Oakland University to be recognized as one of the most LGBTQ[IA+] inclusive campuses in the state of Michigan,” said Grace A. Wojcik, coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Wojcik introduced Peppermint and Sasha Velour, who were the runner-up and winner, respectively, of season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In addition to their appearance on Drag Race, they are lifelong entertainers, artists and activists.
Both spoke about how drag and activism have gone hand-in-hand, dating back several generations.
“When we talk about drag activism, it’s more than just representation, which is very important, but it is actually coming up with strategies for making change,” Sasha Velour said. “Like everyone was saying, as soon as I started seeing drag, especially in New York City, they would be registering voters like at the drag club. We would be hosting auctions and raffles with things we had made to raise money.”
In addition to their personal experiences with activism, the two shared anecdotes about honoring the trailblazers from LGBTQIA+ history like José Sarria, the first openly gay person to run for political office, and William Dorcey Swann, the first American queer activist and drag queen.
In 2020, Peppermint and fellow Drag Race star Bob the Drag Queen created the Black Queer Town Hall with Angela Davis for pride. Riding on the coattails of the Black Lives Matter movement, similar activism projects like a march for Black trans lives in Brooklyn were also organized by drag queens.
“Drag kind of like makes you a fierce organizer and teaches you how to get stuff done and own your power, often because we are literally making everything happen for ourselves from scratch,” Sasha Velour said.
Peppermint talked about her upcoming album, and how she has been able to use her art and platform to “give people a story about a black transgender woman that doesn’t end in murder, to give people a story about a black transgender woman who’s being loved by the people around her, and cared for and adored and cherished, publicly.”
They also spoke candidly about their gender identities and how they, Peppermint as a transgender woman and Sasha Velour as a genderfluid person, became comfortable in their own skin through drag.
Peppermint described her style of drag as being “born out of desperation,” when she was young and looking for validation in her gender identity. She said that her experience with drag, like others, had made her stronger and more confident to face challenges when coming out.
Sasha Velour expressed a similar strength found through drag.
“Yes, it is my job,” she said. “But it is a job that’s allowed me to own and literally profit from a very real aspect of me that I was told would be a hindrance and a danger for me. So to be able to turn that into power is huge.”
The pair took questions from the audience, who asked about community and for advice.
“[Making connections] will feed your queer sensibility, and then you’ll be some of the strongest, most developed, most well thought people around, because that’s what queer people are,” Peppermint said. “We do not tear down communities, we build them.”